WORLD NEWS
06/07/2018 11:09 pm ET

Brother Of Scandal-Plagued Late Mayor Is Voted Leader Of Canada's Ontario Province

Populist Doug Ford will be Ontario's 26th premier.
Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford attends a campaign event in Caledonia, Ontario, on Wednesday.
Carlo Allegri / Reuters
Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford attends a campaign event in Caledonia, Ontario, on Wednesday.

The populist businessman brother of the notorious late former mayor of Toronto is set to lead Canada’s most-populous province in a stunning political turnaround for one of the country’s most contentious political dynasties.

Doug Ford ― the older brother of Rob Ford, who died in 2016 and who gained international infamy and the ridicule of late-night talk show hosts after a mobile phone video showed him smoking crack cocaine ― pulled off an election rout for the Progressive Conservative Party on Thursday in Ontario.

Despite Thursday’s result for Ford, a self-styled anti-politician who defeated the country’s first openly gay premier, it may not be the Donald Trump-lite moment in traditionally liberal Canada that many have characterized it as.

Tonight we have sent a clear message to the world: Ontario is open for business,” Ford said in a victory speech promising an “era of prosperity” the likes of which the province has never seen.

Ford, 53, will become the province’s 26th premier, a role roughly similar to that of a U.S. governor. He ousted the Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne, who in 2013 became Canada’s first openly gay premier and the province’s first female leader.

Despite the lowest unemployment rate in decades, polls suggested that nearly 15 years of Liberal rule, with its share of spending, scandal and speculation that the concerns of those outside big cities weren’t being heard, had voters hungry for change.

Despite a surge from the left-wing New Democrats of Andrea Horwath, Ford’s party captured more than 70 of a possible 124 seats, more than enough for a commanding majority government that will put him firmly in charge of the health care and education systems. 

The outspoken Ford, a former one-term Toronto city councilor, was often seen by his brother’s side during the 2013 drugs scandal that rocked Canada and captivated people around the world.

His four years on council, largely as the mayor’s pugnacious wingman, felt like one big public fight. Fighting to defend his deeply troubled brother. Fighting with the chief of police over an investigation into the then-mayor and his friends. Fighting with the father of a young man with autismFighting with fellow councilors and constituents calling for some semblance of order.

Carlo Allegri / Reuters

When Rob Ford abandoned his 2014 mayoral re-election bid after a cancer diagnosis, big brother stepped in to run. In so doing, he became the torchbearer for “Ford Nation” ― the community of ardent fans, largely outside Toronto’s downtown core, who embrace the family’s bumper-sticker brand of standing up for the little guy, respecting taxpayers and “stopping the gravy train.”

Doug Ford finished a respectable second in his 2014 bid for mayor. He returned to Deco Companies, a family label-making business, but announced earlier this year he would run again for the city’s top job.

A bigger job opened up in January, when the Ontario Tories lost their otherwise forgettable leader, Patrick Brown, following Me Too-style accusations involving two young women.

Ford launched his bid to replace Brown in the basement of his mother’s suburban home, sparking the exact kind of derision an outsider taking on the establishment might hope to spark.

He pledged little in the way of vision during an abridged leadership race, beyond promising to fight Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s plan to price carbon pollution. Ford also charmed social conservatives by pledging to reopen the province’s revamped sex education curriculum.

Mostly it was all about cutting taxes and pinching pennies. That was enough. In his leadership victory speech in March, he gestured to the heavens while referencing his brother.

The Trump comparisons came right away. It didn’t help that Ford was an avowed fan of the U.S. president, telling a local TV station in October 2016 that he wouldn’t waver in his support of the Republican over “Crooked Hillary.” This was after the “Access Hollywood” tape.

His Liberal opponent similarly wasted no time trying to paint Ford with the Trump brush.

“Doug Ford sounds like Donald Trump and that’s because he is like Donald Trump,” Wynne said just before the campaign. She was responding to Ford’s claim that her “shady tricks” with public money would, in private life, land her in jail.

About a week later, the province’s auditor general released a scathing report accusing the Wynne government of downplaying its budget deficit by billions.

At a campaign rally, a Ford supporter barked out “lock her up” — twice — as he complained about hydro rates under Wynne’s leadership. The quip made Ford laugh, but he told reporters the next day he didn’t “condone” that kind of chant.

But despite the urging of some fans to “Make Ontario Great Again,” Ford rejected comparisons to the U.S. president, lest they scare off country club conservatives turned off by reality-show politics. 

Trump said he’d build a wall. Ford said he’d bring back buck-a-beer and make fuel a bit cheaper.

While Trump thrived on outrage and outrageousness on his unlikely march to power, Ford tried to keep things scripted with teleprompters and talking points. As the race tightened, some wondered aloud if he was playing things too safe.

While Trump obsessed over getting his face on TV, Ford did not have a media bus follow him on the trail, and would typically take just a handful of questions.

While Trump’s campaign openly targeted Mexicans and Muslims, Ford didn’t deliberately stoke racial animus in the same way.

Trump said he’d build a wall. Ford said he’d bring back buck-a-beer and make fuel a bit cheaper.

Still, Ford faced heat for suggesting in a debate that the province had to “take care of our own” before encouraging immigrants to move to northern Ontario.

“There’s no politician that probably has more support out there for new Canadians,” he said when pressed to explain himself. “Ford Nation’s full of new Canadians.”

White nationalists, however, interpreted the line as a “dog whistle” and have been happy to claim Ford as their guy.

Protesters gathered at Ford's campaign headquarters in Etobicoke, Ontario, on June 2.
NurPhoto via Getty Images
Protesters gathered at Ford's campaign headquarters in Etobicoke, Ontario, on June 2.

Perhaps the biggest parallel to Trump involves Ford’s stinginess with details and the lingering questions about his actual grasp of governing. When a reporter asked him early on to explain how, precisely, a bill becomes a law, Ford called it a “gotcha question” and promised he’d pass “endless” bills. The defensiveness and the odd boasting felt like quintessential Trump.

Though Ford promised a costed platform before voters cast their ballots, he instead released a list of priced promises with no information about how his government would pay for them. He pledged to find $6 billion in “efficiencies” in government spending, which his opponents said is just another word for cuts to public services.

And, like Trump, drama follows him.

Ford was accused of being involved in selling bogus party memberships to support a preferred candidate in 2016 and directly intimidating a female rival. He denied both allegations.

It was revealed in the last days of the campaign that Renata Ford, the widow of Rob Ford, filed a lawsuit alleging that as trustees of her husband’s estate, Doug Ford and his brother Randy deprived her two young kids of millions of dollars. She alleges that Ford negligently mismanaged the family business while paying himself extravagant sums.

Though he said he was “floored” and hurt by the lawsuit, Ford wouldn’t share audited financial statements or reveal his salary to help put the matter to rest. That, too, had shades of Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns.

Ford’s mother released a statement calling Renata Ford an addict. In the end, the public drama didn’t derail Ford’s central pitch as a business success, family man, helluva guy.

“I know that my brother Rob is looking down from heaven,” Ford told his jubilant supporters Thursday night, yielding his biggest applause.

“I’m just getting chills talking about him right now. Rob is celebrating with us tonight. We owe so much to Rob’s legacy. A legacy of service to the people.”

The late mayor’s demons, and his very public battles with alcohol and drugs, made household names of him and Doug both. But it also brought negative attention to the Ford who was supposed to be the steady one.

In 2013, in the thick of Rob Ford’s problems, a radio host asked him if he worried he was damaging his brother’s brand, should he ever want to run provincially.

“You know what, Doug will be provincial one day,” Rob Ford said, with noticeable anger in his voice. “He will be premier one day.”

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